Mistaken Anthrax Shipments Still Being Located

22 lab employees at U.S. air base in South Korea have been put on antibiotics.

ByABC News
May 28, 2015, 3:28 PM

— -- Eighteen laboratories in nine states have begun turning over samples of anthrax to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to determine if they contained live anthrax mistakenly provided to them by the U.S. military, the Pentagon said today.

In a precautionary move, 22 employees at a military laboratory in South Korea that also received a shipment of the spores have been ordered to take the antibiotic Cipro because they may have been possibly exposed to live spores during lab training conducted late last week, officials said.

The Pentagon has said that there is no threat to the general public from the inadvertent shipping of live anthrax and that none of the personnel in South Korea have demonstrated any signs or symptoms of exposure to anthrax.

The anthrax distributed to the 18 laboratories originated in one milliliter of live anthrax known as AG1 that was irradiated on March 18, 2014, a Defense Department official told ABC News.

The irradiation was supposed to have left the sample fully inactivated, but subsequent testing has shown it still left some live spores in the sample, the official said.

Over the course of the next 12 months, the Dugway facility provided samples of the AG1 batch to 18 private and academic laboratories in nine states as well as a U.S. military laboratory in South Korea. Each of the institutions was provided samples of the AG1 anthrax for various forms of anthrax research or product development.

On April 29, 2015, the military’s Edgewood Chemical and Biological Center in Maryland shipped some of the AG1 anthrax to eight companies in six states, according to the Pentagon. It was a private company in Maryland that notified the CDC on May 22 that it had received live anthrax as part of that shipment.

Since then, the CDC and the Pentagon have been working to secure all of the samples of AG1 anthrax that had been sent by FedEx to 18 laboratories.

"We are confident that the packaging and transport of these items was in accordance with the procedures outlined to ensure that the public is not at any risk," said Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.

Since the CDC and the Pentagon were notified last week that the AG1 stock might contain live spores, the remaining AG1 stock at the Dugway Proving Ground has been tested and found to contain a mix of both live and inactivated anthrax.

Stanford University confirmed today that its medical school had received a vial of anthrax last July, but that it had not been used by school personnel since it was initially received 10 months ago.

After the school was notified by the CDC that it may have received minute amounts of live anthrax, the university launched “a safety review of the laboratory where the material was handled by two individuals under appropriate biosafety guidelines," the university said is a statement.

“Stanford secured the vial in question for shipping to the CDC for evaluation to determine whether, in fact, the material was not completely inactivated. Stanford has not received any reports of incidents or reactions over the 10 months since the material was last used in the laboratory," the university said.

U.S. military commanders at Osan Air Base in South Korea ordered the destruction of the AG1 sample they had received early last year. They also placed 22 employees who may have been exposed to the sample to be placed on a regimen of the antibiotic Cipro.

“Emergency response personnel from the 51st Fighter Wing responded and destroyed the sample located in a self-contained contingency facility at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, after it was discovered the bacteria might not be an inert training sample as expected,” the 51st Fighter Wing said in a statement.

The 22 personnel may have been exposed during training on laboratory equipment conducted between May 21 and 23.

“The lab workers were wearing standard lab apparel, including lab coat, eye protection, gloves and using a bio-safety cabinet with filter," according to Col. Amy Hannah, a spokesperson for U.S. Forces Korea.